Brian Blessed leads celebration of Bristol Old Vic's redevelopment milestone

7 Feb 2018

Actor, national treasure and force-of-nature Brian Blessed today scaled the heights of Bristol Old Vic's newly constructed rooftops as guest of honour at the theatre's 'Topping Out' ceremony.

This traditionally marks the moment in a major building project where the highest point of construction has been reached and is a time to celebrate the successes so far.

Brian Blessed studied at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School before beginning his career in 1957, treading the boards in panto as 'First Robber' to Peter O'Toole's Dame in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. 

Brian returned today, after a break of 60 years, to lay the final piece of cement, complete with placing a sprig of yew for good luck, and accept a silver ceremonial trowel from building contractors Gilbert Ash. Although the moment wasn't without it's own drama as the 81 year-old actor showed he's still full of enough energy to break the ceremonial trowel in two. "I don't know my own strength!" he proclaimed, before completing the job using his fists, for good measure.

Bristol Old Vic's redevelopment is due to be completed in September this year. A two-year reconstruction project that has literally knocked down the walls that had separated the theatre from its city for 250 years. For the first time, the theatre can be seen from the street, with fully accessible, bright public spaces, a new bar and kitchen (created in partnership with Bristol company Fosters Events), a new Studio theatre and the return of Coopers' Hall to its original Georgian splendour as a function space, available for conferences and celebrations. The 250 year history of this unique theatre will also be opened up to the public with interactive experiences, exhibitions and a digitised archive available on site to bring the theatre's heritage story to life as never before.

Bristol Old Vic's aim is to provide opportunities for every part of the city to access theatre and the arts, whether in the theatre itself, or out in the community. Bristol Old Vic is currently running projects in every ward of the city, focussing on communities who traditionally have little engagement with the arts and providing invaluable opportunities in schools to help young people develop their creativity, potential and self-esteem.

Speaking today, Chief Executive Emma Stenning said: "For too many decades theatre has been seen as something elitist and often inaccessible to many. We work very hard out in the city to create opportunities for people who maybe don't feel theatre is for them, but our public spaces were all about grand staircases and unreachable areas. Through this redevelopment, at long last we can show how Bristol Old Vic has kicked down the doors separating us from the city and make this a place that is genuinely and committedly for everyone to share and enjoy."

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CGIs showing how Bristol Old Vic from King Street, the foyer area within the theatre and Coopers’ Hall will look after the redevelopment – high res versions available

Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously running theatre in the UK, and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. The historic playhouse aims to inspire audiences with its own original productions, both at home and on tour, whilst nurturing the next generation of artists, whether that be through their 350-strong Young Company, their many outreach and education projects or their trailblazing artist development programme, Bristol Ferment.

They use their funding to support experiment and innovation, to allow access to their programme for people who would not otherwise encounter it, or be able to afford it, and to keep their extraordinary heritage alive and animated.

On 24 Sep 2018, Bristol Old Vic completed its 2-year multi-million pound redevelopment project, which transformed its front of house space into a warm and welcoming public building for all of Bristol to enjoy, created a new studio theatre and opened up its unique theatrical heritage to the public for the first time.

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